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'We Sold Our Souls to the Devil' : In a Wide-Ranging Interview, the Duo Tell the Whole Story About What It Was Like to Live a Lie

November 21, 1990|CHUCK PHILIPS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

G irl you know it's . . .

Girl you know it's . . .

Girl you know it's . . .

Girl you know it's . . .

It was Robert Pilatus' and Fabrice Morvan's worst nightmare come true. There they were dancing and moving their lips in front of 15,000 fans. And the sound system broke down. The machine wouldn't say the word true and, like a scratched record, began to repeat the opening lyrics of the lip-syncing Milli Vanilli's "Girl You Know It's True."

It was the title cut of one of the hottest pop albums of 1989. Seven million records sold. Videos. Cassettes. CDs. Concert appearances. Merchandising. A gold mine for two young dreadlocked break dancers, a German record producer with a knack for making hits, a huge German entertainment conglomerate and its New York-based U.S. label Arista Records.

And it was all built on a lie that would come to bite them all 16 months later.

Girl you know it's . . .

Girl you know it's . . .

"I knew right then and there, it was the beginning of the end for Milli Vanilli," recalled Pilatus of the duo's appearance that July, 1989, night in Bristol, Conn. "When my voice got stuck in the computer, and it just kept repeating and repeating, I panicked. I didn't know what to do. I just ran off the stage."

The humiliation that "Rob" Pilatus and "Fab" Morvan suffered that summer evening on the MTV Club Tour proved to be but a hint of problems to come. Those would reach a critical mass as the duo and their producer prepared to release songs from their new album, "Keep on Running," due out in January, 1991.

Pilatus and Morvan insisted that they be allowed to sing on the new record--something they hadn't done on the first. Producer Frank Farian, who owns the name Milli Vanilli, resisted but released in Europe early cuts from the album with Pilatus and Morvan on the cover. It's a collector's item now, for by the time the record is released in the United States, it will feature a different picture and, indeed, a different group altogether.

Girl you know it's . . .

Words like embarrassment or sham or hoax were too mild. Milli Vanilli was a scandal fueled, like most scandals, with ambition, greed and mendacity. It was two minor talents manipulated and manipulating to the top rungs of show business. It was the record industry's myth-making machine built with a recording technology capable of deceit and operated by men who chose to deceive. And it was a public that was more impressed by image than talent, more accepting of appearances than demanding of the truth.

"We sold our souls to the devil," Pilatus said during an exclusive two-hour interview over the weekend. He and his partner agreed to talk to The Times and tell their story. "We lied to our families and our friends. We let down our fans. We realize exactly what we did to achieve our success. We made some very big mistakes and we apologize."

"Rob and I never meant for it to go this way," Morvan added. "Our producer tricked us. We signed contracts as singers but were never allowed to contribute. It was a nightmare. We were living a lie. The psychological pressure was very hard. It was like we were trapped in some golden prison."

Last week, Farian fired Pilatus and Morvan, and all three admitted that the duo never sang on their 7 million-selling "Girl You Know It's True" album nor at any of their other live concert performances--a nearly three-year-old secret that has haunted every step of their careers.

On Monday, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences stripped Pilatus and Morvan of their 1989 best new artist Grammy, an award they won during a nationally televised program from the Shrine Auditorium in February.

On Tuesday, the duo were relegated to their own special level of Hollywood hell, publicly defending--or at least owning up to--their roles in the album hoax and playing a tape to a news conference, trying to convince reporters and the public that they really can sing.

"They can sing up to Pavarotti's high C," insisted voice coach Seth Riggs, who was brought in to address an unruly crowd of more than 100 reporters and photographers. "Not as well as Pavarotti, but they did do it."

Girl you know it's . . .

The Milli Vanilli fiasco has struck a nerve in the record industry. Pilatus and Morvan plus other sources close to the performers' camp allege that officials at New York-based Arista, parent company Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG) and Gallin Morey Associates--one of Hollywood's leading talent agencies--purposely misrepresented the pop act to the public.

Pilatus and Morvan allege that Arista President Clive Davis and Sandy Gallin, the duo's manager, knew they did not sing on the album at least six months before the Grammy was awarded, but pressed on with marketing the music anyway.

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